Lost duck

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You have to love New Zealand! I’ve had the radio on in the kitchen while I cook and have just heard a news bulletin on the RNZ channel. The last item in this broadcast was from and for Masterston (a town of about 25,000 people 100kms north-east of Wellington) about an injured duck that was seen flying away from a fire. The community has been asked to keep an eye out for the duck. Some New Zealanders complain about trivial items on the news but I found this refreshing. It is also a welcome break from the news items about devastation from earthquakes and tsunamis, entitled white men insisting that their power not be diminshed, people being poisoned by secret agents from countries they used to live in … to say nothing about the daily outrages committed by the stable genius who lives in a house that is painted white.

Palmy

Manawatu

We spent some time in Palmerston North last week. This is the first time I’ve explored this much maligned town and I was agreeably surprised. The town centre surrounds The Square, which has pleasant gardens and plenty of benches. There are interesting shops and cafes fragrant with coffee. There is a fantastic bookshop (https://bmbooks.co.nz/) and I had a long, interesting conversation with the proprietors of Pork Chop Hill clothing (https://www.porkchophill.nz/) about the origin of the name of their business. The art gallery and museum (https://www.temanawa.co.nz/) are well worth a visit. Best of all are the gardens and walking/cycling paths along the Manawatu River (see pic above). There is a paved path all the way along the river and it is well-used, judging by the number of cyclists I saw. There are also walking paths through the bush between the gardens of Victoria Esplanade and the river. These are a delight because of the dense foliage and the cacophony of birdsong. Go to Palmy – you may be as surprised as I was.

Waka on the Waitemata

Waka

This experience is one of the highlights of my year in Auckland – sailing on the Waitemata harbour in a waka, a traditional double-hulled canoe, with an expert crew of Maori sailors. As we went under the harbour bridge, photographer Chris McKeen snapped this amazing photo. Look closely – I am standing to the left of the front sail, wearing a blue cap. It was a gorgeous summer’s day with smooth water and deep blues skies. We meandered around the harbour with its spectacular views of Auckland city and some of the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. I will never forget it.

Wellington on a beautiful day

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It is a Kiwi cliché that there is nothing to beat Wellington on a beautiful day. Like all clichés, it is true. I’ve just spent a weekend in our capital city and on my last day, the clouds and rain retreated, the wind died down and the sunshine turned the sky a bright antipodean blue. The main reason for my visit was the He Tohu exhibition at the National Library. An exquisite rimu walk-in treasure box encases three of the most important New Zealand constitutional documents – the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi and the Women’s Suffrage Petition. Apart from the spine-tingling experience of seeing the actual documents, there is an excellent interactive exhibition where one can find out more about each document and the people who signed them. I highly recommend it. I also caught up with two dear Wellingtonian friends who played tour guides and took me to some of their favourite places. Go to Wellington – you won’t regret it, especially if the sun is shining!

Michael Joseph Savage

Savage memorial

With a general election in less than a month, it seemed appropriate (and perhaps propitious) to visit the Michael Joseph Savage memorial. He was New Zealand’s first Labour prime minister (1935-1940). A socialist and trade unionist, he is credited with instituting the welfare state. His charisma and oratory skills made him an almost revered figure in New Zealand politics and his memorial near Bastion Point in Auckland exemplifies the esteem in which he was held. I viewed the memorial on a glorious spring day – standing beside it looking out over the glistening waters of the Waitemata harbour, it seemed that anything was possible!

Hokianga

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Earth can have very few sights more fair than this view of the Hokianga harbour. As you come over the hill and round the bend, this breathtaking view greets you. We were fortunate to see it on a beautiful late autumn day when the blue of the sky and the sea seemed boundless. We then meandered down through the little settlement of Omapere and into Opononi, where we had delicious coffee, confirming our opinion that, even in the smallest New Zealand town, you always find good coffee. Then we viewed the statue of Opo  – a wild bottle-nosed dolphin who started following fishing boats in the harbour after her mother died. She soon became a celebrity and would allow children to swim beside her and played with the balls they threw to her. She died in 1956 and was buried in a special plot near the town hall. As I looked out over the magnificent harbour that was her playground, Don McGlashan’s song Miracle Sun went through my head. Only in New Zealand!

A big tree

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Our daughter lives in Northland, which has given us the opportunity to explore a part of New Zealand that we’ve not seen much of previously. Driving through the Waipoua forest on the way to the Hokianga, we stopped to view Tāne Mahuta. This is a giant kauri tree estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old. Its name means ‘lord of the forest’. While we were gazing in wonder, another family arrived. An older child told her younger brother to look. He gave it a cursory glance, said “big tree” and then hurried over to a bench so that he could climb up and jump off it. I was very amused. To call this giant of the forest a big tree is such an understatement! To a small boy, the opportunity to jump off a bench was much more appealing than looking at a tree. I hope he has the chance to see Tāne Mahuta again when he is older and feel the sense of awe that I remember when I look at this photo of us dwarfed by its magnificence.

Sheep may safely graze

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One of my first blog posts had the same title. I’m pleased to say that New Zealand has not changed much since then (January 2014, just after we arrived in Malaysia) and the sheep still graze safely. It is cause for gratitude when one hears and reads of the mayhem elsewhere in the world. But it is certainly not cause for complacency. I spent a couple of days over Queen’s Birthday weekend in Northland, where I glimpsed this valley sparkling in the sun. It made me heart lift!

Free fruit

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Though I’m reluctant to give any free advertising for a supermarket chain (though I must admit that I stand in the Meadowbank Countdown drinking in the colours and variety of the food on offer every time I arrive back in Auckland!) I think this is a very good idea – a basket of free fruit that parents can give their children to chew while they get the groceries.

Long live libraries

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Towns and cities all over the world are closing libraries – too expensive to maintain and anyway, with the internet, do we need libraries any more? Here in the little Northland town of Puhoi the library is alive and kicking. It is open for between two and four hours five days a week and has a collection of over 4000 books (http://www.puhoilibrary.org.nz/). At its peak this town had a population of only 500 and yet it keeps its library doors open. Good on them!